Pedagogy & Politics

When you have a state-run education system it seems that all education is political, n’est-ce pas? The French Immersion debate has once again reared its head in the Province of New Brunswick, the same place that gave birth to the COR party. The Confederation of Regions party’s main platform was to reverse official bilingualism in the province.

The Minister has commissioned another review of the system which has opened up the debate, especially from Canadian Parents for French. I have not had time to examine, once again, all factors at play, but here are some of my personal observations. Both of our sons are in the French Immersion program (Grades 8 & 10) and my wife and I, both bilingual, have been fairly active in their education.

The Early Immersion program starts in Grade 1 and all of the research that I have read on the subject shows that earlier is better. Given that information, it would be better if French Immersion began in kindergarten. Actually, I would prefer that it was the ONLY program, with no opting out. Second language skills are one of the few long-term cognitive skills taught in the system which are useful in a broad sense and easily transported beyond school.

The critical factor in second-language immersion is the teacher’s ability in that language. With only one person to emulate, the students need an excellent example. The Berlitz method is based on this understanding. Our experience has included several teachers with very poor French language skills.

The Immersion program in our schools also lacks adequate resources, so that students with any special needs must transfer out of the program in order to get the attention they require. This results in fewer children with behavioural challenges in French Immersion, and of course more with challenges in what’s known as the Core program. Over the years, a self-selection process has developed, with the many of the more actively involved parents opting for French Immersion, as this seems to be a “better” program for their children. Add to this the “my kids don’t need no French” factor plus real advantages for government employment as a bilingual individual and French Immersion becomes highly politicized.

This separation of French and English not only occurs at school, where the immersion students are known as “French kids”. It also happens at the Departmental level with two separate educational systems (Organization Chart, PDF) and curricula. For example, we have French-speaking schools within a 30 minute drive, yet not once have I heard of an exchange program in the past decade. The kids don’t get a chance to talk with each other. Indeed, two solitudes.

6 Responses to “Pedagogy & Politics”

  1. Guy Boulet

    Harold,

    I fully understand your position. I’m from Quebec and we are facing some similar issues. Since French is the primary language here and English is everywhere else around us, it would only make sense if our kids could take English immersion, but this right is legally restricted. To keep it simple, in Quebec, a kid can only go to a public English school if:

    – one of the parent went to english school,
    – the kid went to english school for most of his previous school years,
    – One of the parents is in the military.

    So, for the majority of Quebec kids, English immersion is not even an option. This has a huge impact right now, especially in Quebec City where I live, since many companies can’t find bilingual employees and therefore have difficulties to deal with providers or customers outside Quebec. Of course, kids are thaught English in french school, but my experience is that you learn very little unless you are immersed.

    I’m lucky enough to be able to send my kids to English school since my wife did her high school in english and I use to be in the military (still am as a reservist). But for most of the kids in our neibourhood, they won’t have this opportunity and will likely be stuck with sucking jobs unless they take private English lessons.

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  2. Gilbert

    In New Brunswick we have a dual system where francophones are supposed to be in francophone schools and anglophones in english schools. Franchophones are also supposed to go to francophone hospitals.

    What bothers me is that we cannot freely question this structure. Trudeau was recently attacked for making comments about duality.
    Honestly there is nothing wrong about questioning the status quo. There ARE pros and cons to duality.

    The issue of duality is very political. Nothing wrong with things being political but are people really informed as to what the pros and cons are?
    Does everyone have a voice or do we only hear the few who scream louder than the others?

    As a francophone I believe that our notion of bilinguism/multilinguism should be revisited.
    If we did a proper analysis Immersion programs would probably receive much more support.

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  3. Harold

    And now Amanda informs me that:

    “The 2006 Rehorick report, that cost tax payers $30,000, that the government is choosing to ignore, shows good data that 98-99% of immersion students achieve the proficiency level that is currently being sought, whereas 1% of the Core students achieve this level. Since this cannot be used to support any argument to eliminate EFI is clearly why the report is being ignored.”

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  4. Lisa

    The whole thing needs to be looked at again. This year I’ve gotten a chance to see from the inside as a PSSC member at my son’s school, some of the challenges at the middle school level. My son attended an elementary school that did not offer any immersion at all. So he entered late immersion in grade 6 at middle school. In his class are students who like him are late immmersion mixed with some students who were in the intensive french grade 5 program. Some of the intensive french went into core french, the rest in late immersion. It has created significant gaps between the students, including parents who are frustrated at the intensive french students, not being challenged enough in the late immersion.

    So essentially the province has early immmersion, late immersion, intensive french feed into either core or late immersion. And not all elementary schools offer immersion. In other words, it sounds like the system could use a restructuring.

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  5. Walter Lee

    Canadian Parents for French have been working hard on this issue. I entirely agree with Lisa that the system needs some attention.

    The unfortunate thing is that we have been working with only 1 FSL expert at the Department level for a number of years so it is no wonder that Core has fallen by the wayside and that problems with lack of methods and resource for French Immersion kids was allowed to go on for so long without being remedied.

    All of these things need attention, that is true. But the government was aware of these problems and had access to solutions brought forward in the Rehorick report, among others. The answers are there.

    What is happening now, based on our observations, is something entirely different than a legitimate examination of ways to improve the French Second Language system in New Brunswick. Instead, in my opinion, which is based on a close examaniation and a deep understanding of the process, it is a process that is set up to make the case for the elimination of early immersion.

    The minister has deliberately marginalized our group and parents in general because we are saying something very simple. “Don’t take away a program that works in order to improve the program that doesn’t work.”

    Of late, he has been trying to say we don’t care about this large group who are poorly served by the core program. We are not saying this. In fact, we have been a voice in the wilderness for years calling for a drastic overhaul of the core program.

    I am pleased to see parents taking a keen interest in this discussion and was glad to come across this site. There is no way that a small volunteer group like ours will be able to stop this runaway train that Minister Lamrock seems intent on crashing into our provinces’ delicate and beautiful bilingual society, but parents working together can help the premier aim the train somewhere else – preferably away from education and away from our kids.

    I recommend that anyone interested in this topic have a look at our website at http://www.cpfnb.com to see how they can get their voice heard by the premier.

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